Yesterday, my colleague and I had the pleasure of accompanying our 10-year-old sons, Harry and Ethan, to the Stargazing event at the Dockyard run by the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation. The boys were initially unsure of what to expect, but their excitement grew as we joined the queue. The Dockyard, with its historic ships and grand buildings, provided a dramatic backdrop to the event, further amplified by the illuminated Spinnaker Tower.

Our first stop was a talk by Professor David Bacon, titled ‘What’s in the Universe?’. With infectious enthusiasm, a touch of humor, and mesmerizing animations, Professor Bacon effortlessly engaged the diverse audience, spanning from the very young to the seasoned stargazers and the boys were still talking about some of the things they learned this morning.

After this, we explored the exhibits at Action Stations. The boys’ creativity was ignited as they constructed rockets from discarded materials, with an explanation of the physics behind their launch. We then navigated through various exhibits, collecting freebies from the Airbus stand, participating in competitions, interacting with electronics, and discovering the mechanics of orbits.

They were particularly fascinated by a demonstration on cosmic explosions using a basketball and tennis ball, and the Tactile Universe project, which let them feel the universe through 3D printed models. They also learned about gravitational waves and how they can be measured and disrupted.


Two people using VR headsets, while sat next to a University of Portsmouth stall at the Stargazing at the Historic Dockyard event

Harry and Ethan trying the VR headsets.

Among the myriad of experiences, the boys were particularly enthralled by the VR headset, which offered a visual representation of dark matter and its interconnecting threads. And let’s not forget the ‘space tattoos’ - which involved a detailed image of a spiral galaxy with explanations of what was being painted and why different colours were being used.

After about 1.5 hours, we decided to explore the Warrior. Here, we had an engaging conversation with a man about his telescope, checked out a scale model of the solar system (cue the Uranus jokes!), and even had a chat with some Vikings.

All in all, the boys had a blast, as did we. They learned a ton, met some really interesting people, and even scored some free stuff! They rated their experience a 9/10 and described it as “excellent”. High praise indeed from a couple of 10-year-olds!